Reasons for Hope: Developments for Certain Advanced Cancers

Two people share their stories about facing an advanced cancer diagnosis—and one oncologist discusses how research has evolved outlooks for certain patients.

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Nearly 40% of Americans can expect to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. Historically, certain advanced cancers were associated with fewer treatment options. But there are now more reasons for hope—thanks in part to progress in the detection and treatment of cancer and the availability of additional treatment options for certain forms of the disease.

This rings true for John Eagleton, who was diagnosed with a type of advanced non-small cell lung cancer at 63. Before that, Eagleton was busy with his family and various activities. As the son of a flight attendant and airline pilot, he traveled often. He joined the U.S. Navy, had a successful career in sales, and even ran a marathon.

There came a point when Eagleton didn’t feel like himself. He was over-tired and had nagging back pain that would not go away. Thinking he had hurt his back running, Eagleton went to an orthopedist, who recommended an MRI.

Eagleton was then referred to an oncologist, who conducted additional tests and confirmed he had an advanced form of lung cancer that had spread to other parts of his body and tested positive for a biomarker called PD-L1.

“Being diagnosed with advanced stage lung cancer was devastating news—it really shook me,” says Eagleton. “Based on what I knew of the disease at the time, it was hard not to feel hopeless. I was shocked and overwhelmed, to say the least.”

What Is Advanced Cancer?

In its simplest terms, cancer results from the uncontrolled growth of abnormal, cancerous cells. These cells can grow into tumors and may spread into nearby tissues. A cancer can be considered “advanced” when these cancer cells break off and travel or spread to other places in the body, potentially forming new tumors.

Decades of work from the scientific community has increased our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of cancer, including how it forms and survives in the body. Many of these findings have formed the basis for research that has ultimately led to the advent of additional treatment approaches.

Research Expands Options for Patients

“For many years, the main approaches to cancer treatment centered around surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy,” says Steve McCune, M.D., Ph.D., Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers. “Recent years ushered in a new wave of research into immunotherapies, which now represent an additional treatment approach for some types of advanced cancer.”

Immunotherapy is a form of treatment that uses a person’s own immune system—the complex system of cells, tissues and organs that help protect your body from foreign threats—to help fight cancer. Because immunotherapy treatments may help the body’s immune system fight cancer, they might also cause the immune system to harm healthy cells.

“Over time, our understanding of the immune system and the role different immune cells can play in fighting cancer has impacted how we approach certain advanced forms of the disease,” says Dr. McCune. “As our understanding has grown, so too has our approach to exploring the potential of immunotherapy-based combinations in certain types of cancer.”

“Over time, our understanding of the immune system and the role different immune cells can play in fighting cancer has impacted how we approach certain advanced forms of the disease.”
– Dr. McCune

Living with Advanced Cancer

Eagleton admits that processing his advanced cancer diagnosis was difficult: “I was first angry, then I was in denial, then I was finally able to accept the fact that I had advanced non-small cell lung cancer. At that point, I decided I needed to do something.”

Another advanced cancer patient who was shocked by her cancer diagnosis was Shelley Keeter. An Arkansas native and self-described animal lover, Keeter had developed stomach and back pain. When she went to her general practitioner, she ordered an ultrasound and noted some concerning findings.

“Years ago, I’d had a brush with skin cancer, so melanoma wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to me,” says Keeter. “This time around though, I was terrified and knew we needed to do something about this as quickly as possible. Thankfully, my oncologist helped me understand there were several possibilities for treating the cancer.”

“Thankfully, my oncologist helped me understand there were several possibilities for treating the cancer.”
– Keeter

An Immunotherapy Combination in Certain Advanced Cancers

For both Eagleton and Keeter, conversations with their doctors to understand available options and share their goals for treatment were critical to aligning on a path forward. Keeter said, “Once I understood my treatment options and decided on a plan of action with my oncologist, I knew we were going to give this everything we’ve got. That alone helped me feel positive.”

Ultimately, with the help of their respective doctors, they each were treated with an immunotherapy combination, Opdivo® (nivolumab) + Yervoy® (ipilimumab). Opdivo is a prescription medicine that can be used in combination with Yervoy as a first treatment for adults with a type of advanced stage non-small cell lung cancer that has spread and tests positive for PD-L1 but does not have an abnormal EGFR or ALK gene. It can also be used to treat adults with advanced melanoma that has spread or cannot be removed by surgery.

Opdivo + Yervoy can cause problems that can sometimes become serious or life-threatening and can lead to death. Serious side effects may include lung problems; intestinal problems; liver problems; hormone gland problems; kidney problems; skin problems; eye problems; problems in other organs and tissues; severe infusion reactions; and complications of stem cell transplant, including graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), that uses donor stem cells (allogeneic). Call or see your healthcare provider right away for any new or worsening signs or symptoms. Please see Important Safety Information below.

“Sharing my story is an important way for me to give back, even if it brings hope to just one other person."
– Keeter

Looking Ahead with Hope

Together with his oncologist, Eagleton began treatment with Opdivo + Yervoy. He remains committed to staying positive. “Throughout my life, I learned the importance of perseverance, and that has helped me with my lung cancer diagnosis. I have to keep fighting. There is hope,” says Eagleton.

“The fact that cancer continues to impact our communities today and patients are still in need of additional options has helped drive the research that has made progress in immunotherapy,” explains Dr. McCune. “The experience of patients like John and Shelley underscores the potential of scientific progress to increase treatment options for certain advanced cancers.”

Both Eagleton and Keeter describe the importance of having a support system of family and friends, along with their physicians, in the immediate aftermath of their diagnoses and throughout the entire treatment period. Research has shown that having a good support system can be extremely helpful when facing cancer.

“The importance of a strong support system is essential,” says Keeter. “My husband, daughter, and friends keep me focused on the things that bring me joy, help me retain a positive perspective, and don’t let the cancer define me. Sharing my story is an important way for me to give back, even if it brings hope to just one other person."

To learn more about Opdivo + Yervoy, please visit

*John Eagleton and Shelley Keeter were compensated for their time.

OPDIVO® + YERVOY® will not work for everyone. Individual results may vary. Patients should speak with their healthcare provider to discuss a treatment plan that works best for them.

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